Dennis Smith Jr. put forth a strong candidate for NBA dunk of the year last night.
But the Mavericks 115-109 victory cost themselves sole possession of the fourth-worst record in the league. Thus, hurting their chances at receiving more ping-pong balls in the NBA Draft Lottery May 15.
A lot can change between now and the end of the regular season, though.
In Dallas' final four games they will travel to face the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons, before they host the Phoenix Suns in the regular season finale on April 10. Three of those four teams are out of playoff contention. The Magic and Suns have worse records than the Mavericks, and are in full tank mode.
Some of the prospects below have already declared for the upcoming NBA Draft, while the new draft rules allow others the option of returning to school in the coming weeks. These projections are made under the assumption that all of these players are going to turn pro.
The draft order is based on which teams have the worst records and the best chance to secure a higher draft position in the lottery selection process.
1. Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona, 7-feet, 260 pounds
Ayton’s game isn’t perfect, but down the stretch in his first and only season at Arizona, the skilled 7-footer separated himself from a deeply talented class. Need proof? Go watch highlights from his dominant 32 point, 18 rebound performance against USC in the Pac-12 conference title game.
2. Memphis Grizzlies, Luka Doncic, SG, Real Madrid, 6’7, 220
He should fill a major hole in the lineup: wing scorer. Unlike many top teenage prospects from Europe, Doncic (according to most scouts) will come to the NBA mature beyond his years. If those evaluations come to fruition, he should fit in nicely with veterans (and former all-stars) such as point guard Mike Conley Jr. and center Marc Gasol.
3. Atlanta Hawks, Michael Porter Jr., SF, Missouri, 6-11, 216
A November back injury cost him almost his entire season and knocked him from the number one draft spot of almost every NBA talent evaluator. But the fact that he found his way back onto the court for the NCAA Tournament from what was supposed to be a season-ending surgery should tell you something. Besides, the Hawks rebuild is still in its infancy.
4. Dallas Mavericks, Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State, 6-11, 240
This pick will make Longhorns fans from Austin to Dallas-Fort Worth groan because the Mavericks need a rim-protecter such as Mohamed Bamba. But haven’t we already seen shot-swatting big men with limited offensive skills (see: Noel, Nerlens) struggle to earn Rick Carlisle’s trust? Jackson Jr. showed elite potential on both ends of the court at Michigan State, where the freshman was molded and yelled at by Hall-of-Fame head coach Tom Izzo. His wide-ranging skill-set and those experiences make him a better match for the Mavericks and their head coach.
5. Orlando Magic, Marvin Bagley III, PF, Duke, 6-11, 235
He has the shooting ability of a two-guard (almost 40 percent from three-point range in college) and his athleticism is more comparable to elite NBA small forwards. Yet, it’s his high level of production on a loaded Duke team (he averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds per game) that stands out the most.
6. Sacramento Kings, Mohammed Bamba, C, Texas, 7-0, 207
As for Bamba, he will make an immediate impact on defense and his athleticism will give him a chance to build a decent offensive skill set. His development will be best served by playing in arguably the most low-stress market in the NBA.
7. Chicago Bulls, Wendell Carter, C, Duke, 6-10, 263
Rookie power forward Lauri Markkanen is ahead of schedule in his development, particularly on the scoring front. Carter's ability to score and rebound underneath the basket will be a great complement.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Brooklyn), Colin Sexton Jr., 6-2, 183
If LeBron James decides to skip town, opting for Trae Young and his shoot first, second and third approach might be the play here. If the King stays in his home state (and the Cavaliers don’t deal the pick for a meaningful veteran), Sexton could help fill the secondary scoring void created by Kyrie Irving's departure.
9. New York Knicks, Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma, 6-2, 180
Young, the team, the city and those fans are a match made in heaven. The jury is not out on rookie Frank Ntilikina, and the OU product will bring his prolific scoring ability to a backcourt in desperate need of it.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (from LA Lakers), Mikal Bridges, SG, Villanova, 6-7, 210
J.J. Redick isn’t getting any younger and T.J. McConnell will be looking for a significant raise when he likely hits the free-agent market after next season. Bridges will take his winning collegiate pedigree a few miles down the road and gets this young core one step closer to a championship.
11. Charlotte Hornets, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky, 6-6, 171
Assuming Kemba Walker gets dealt by the end of the draft, Gilgeous-Alexander is going to have some big shoes to fill. Having played for a coach as demanding as John Calipari should help ease his transition to the pros (if he ends up declaring).
12. LA Clippers (from Detroit), Miles Bridges, PF, Michigan State, 6-7, 225
In terms of athleticism, Blake Griffin he is not. Bridges remains an enticing tweener who consistently hit jumpers playing the power and small forward positions in college.
13. LA Clippers, Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech, 6-5, 195
This team currently starts a backcourt of 31-year-old Lou Williams at the two spot and Austin Rivers at the one. Starting point guard Patrick Beverly will return from injury next season, but Zhaire Smith can immediately rotate in at either backcourt spot.
14. Denver Nuggets, Kevin Knox, SF, Kentucky, 6-9, 205
Knox has the ideal shooting skill and physical traits of an ideal small-ball power forward in today’s NBA. He just needs to put on a little bit of muscle.
15. Washington Wizards, Robert Williams, C, Texas A&M, 6-8, 240
This team needs to get younger up front. It also needs to take advantage of having John Wall and Bradley Beal in their prime.
16. Phoenix Suns (from Milwaukee), Khyri Thomas, PG/SG, Creighton, 6-3, 200
This is likely a reach, and Thomas may never supplant Tyler Ullis (23 points per game) as the starter. However, his height, defensive potential and competitiveness should make him a great rotational guard.
17. Phoenix Suns, Mitchell Robinson, C, None, 6-11. 215
The Pensacola native didn’t play college basketball this season after a bizarre exit from Western Kentucky. Still, his tremendous upside on both ends of the floor is worth a roll of the dice.
18. San Antonio Spurs, Jalen Brunson-Villanova, 6-2, 200
The point guard’s star-making turn in the NCAA Tournament might be a turn-off for Gregg Popovich (a notoriously under-the-radar drafter). Then again, the Spurs head coach isn’t known for being conventional either.
19. Atlanta Hawks (from Minnesota), Caleb Martin, SF, Nevada, 6'7, 210
We can call this selection Michael Porter Jr. injury insurance. Martin only declared a day ago, and should be a first-round selection.
20. Indiana Pacers, Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA, 6-1, 185
Like Brunson, he’s a bit undersized. That shouldn’t matter. With the ascension of center Myles Turner and shooting guard Victor Oladipo, the Pacers need a solid, plug-and-play point guard.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (from Oklahoma City), Gary Trent Jr., SG, Duke, 6-6, 209
The lengthy shooting guard provides a strong defensive player that can spell Andrew Wiggins. And playing for Mike Krzyzewski will make the transition to a Tom Thibodeau coached team a tad more manageable.
22. Chicago Bulls (from New Orleans), Dzanan Musa, SF, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6-8, 190
This past season, the Bulls didn’t have a small forward who averaged double-digits in scoring. While he isn’t the most athletic wing player, he has been compared to Brent Barry.
23. Utah Jazz, Trevon Duval, PG, Duke; 6-3, 193
Ricky Rubio is streaky from behind the arc, which might make Jazz fans weary of another shooting project. Duval’s athleticism, wing-span (6-9), and decision-making ability more than offset those concerns.
24. Portland Trail Blazers, Anfernee Simmons, PG, IMG Academy
Simmons is coming off a post-graduate year in high school, which makes him eligible. He’s a bit of a wild-card given his high school background, but Portland needs to add depth at point guard behind superstar Damien Lillard.
25. LA Lakers (from Cleveland), Jontay Porter, C, Missouri, 6-11, 215
Even if the Lakers decide to keep Julius Randle, they still have to find a replacement for Brook Lopez at center. Porter is a project and Lopez could be a solid mentor.
26. Philadelphia 76ers, Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami, 6-4, 192
This might give the Sixers one too many shooting guards, but there isn’t a good stretch power forward available here. Walker should get plenty of opportunities to improve an already solid 3-point stroke thanks to the passing prowess of point guard/wing-distributor/point forward Ben Simmons.
27. Boston Celtics, Landry Shamet, PG, Wichita State, 6-4, 180
High basketball IQ? Mid-major standout? Excellent three-point shooter? Check, check and check. He’s a perfect choice for head coach Brad Stevens, who will more than likely need to replace pending free-agent point guard Marcus Smart.
28. Golden State Warriors, Chemize Metu, PF, USC, 6-11, 225
His statistics improved every year he was at USC. Of course, the Warriors lineup is obviously in pretty good shape as is. It couldn’t hurt to add a younger, athletic body underneath the boards.
29. Brooklyn Nets (from Toronto), Moritz Wagner, PF, Michigan; 6-11, 235
Another selection that might be too high. Although, Brooklyn desperately needs scoring help at the power forward spot.
30. Atlanta Hawks (from Houston), Troy Bell, SG, Oregon, 6-7, 215
The Hawks currently have Tyler Dorsey, a second-pick in last year’s draft (and a fellow Oregon Duck), starting at shooting guard. Bell is raw, but could work his way into the starting lineup by the end of next season.
Bonus second-round selection:
34. Dallas Mavericks-Grayson Allen, SG, Duke, 6-4, 185
Shooting guard Seth Curry (who missed almost the entire season with a leg injury) wants to return to the Mavericks. The organization has expressed mutual interest in re-signing the pending free agent. There's a good chance Allen might already gone by the time Dallas picks at 34. If he does somehow fall to this spot, the Mavericks would be getting a steal. Allen's on the on-the-court cheap shots are an issue. But he's a classic Coach K guy, and Rick Carlisle loves high IQ players.